Over the past holiday weekend, as many of us relaxed with our families and celebrated the beginning of a new year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the homes of Central American refugees in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina and arrested 121 people, many of them mothers with young children.
Sadly, there is nothing new about the ICE raids. They are a component of the Obama administration’s enforcement policy that targets these refugees who arrived in the United States in large numbers during the summer of 2014 fleeing various forms of persecution in their home countries. It is inhumane and unconscionable to arrest children and families in their own homes over a holiday weekend and without due process.
The surge in Central American refugees during the summer of 2014 garnered much media attention due to the large numbers of unaccompanied minors who made the treacherous journey to the United States in order to survive. The persecution these minors and their families faced in countries like El Salvador ranged from rape and sexual abuse, to extreme domestic violence, to extreme violence perpetrated indiscriminately by gangs engaged in drug trafficking and other crimes. And some refugees from Central America come to the United States to flee persecution due to their identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In fact, one in every 500 detainees held by ICE in detention facilities is transgender, many of them migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States and hundreds turning to the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Immigration Project for help. What we don’t know for certain is how many caught up in the raids last weekend were LGBTQ refugees, but undoubtedly some were and even more certain is that death awaits those who are not allowed to stay.
The New Year’s weekend raids were not executed because any of these refugees were dangerous or had committed any crimes. On the contrary, the raids targeted the refugees simply because they entered the country after 2014 and some had been ordered to leave through an expedited immigration procedure that did not afford them due process. Their method of arrest was swift, frightening and invasive. Children were forced to witness these aggressive ICE tactics. ICE agents reportedly entered homes in the early morning hours without warrants, sometimes under false pretenses, arrested people, and denied their requests to consult with their attorney. One mother of four young children had checked in every three weeks for a year with the immigration authorities, wore an electronic GPS monitor, and turned in her childrens’ passports when requested to do so. Other refugees were unaware of their rights to stay in this country or that they could appeal a negative immigration ruling, and some did not even have a chance to present a political asylum claim at all due to lack of counsel to represent them.
This past Tuesday, our nation’s highest immigration court, the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA), granted a rare temporary stay of deportation to four families, thanks to the help of immigrant rights activists and lawyers who sprung to their aid. The BIA found that these four families were denied due process when mistakes were made in their political asylum proceedings and/or they received ineffective assistance of counsel or no counsel at all. These four families are a small percentage of those ensnared in the raids. Countless others sit in a detention center in Dilley, Texas uncertain of their future and fearing the certain death that they and their children will face if deported back to their home countries.
Our community is no stranger to persecution. We remember well the police raids at the Stonewall Inn in 1968 which led to the Stonewall riots that galvanized our movement. We commemorate that turning point in our consciousness every June because at that pivotal moment in history, our community united with one collective voice to say no more raids. No more abuse. No more oppression. We must remember this history now more than ever. We must raise our voices to call out injustice against the poor, the powerless and the unpopular. Undocumented immigrants in this country are the poor, the powerless, the unpopular. But they need not be the voiceless. So the next time we hear a knock on the door in the middle of the night, we must be vigilant and raise our voice to demand justice for those taken away. Because it has been us in the past, it could be us again in the future, and it should be #NOTONEMORE today. #StopTheRaids. Call @WhiteHouse now. 866-473-5915